Viral hepatitis (hepatitis that spreads through a virus) has numerous ways to invade our body. However, we can take adequate steps to reduce the risk of infection.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that is commonly caused by a viral infection (there are other causes too). Usually caused by hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E, hepatitis can progress to liver cirrhosis (scarring), fibrosis, or liver cancer.
How does hepatitis spread?
Depending on the type of hepatitis, there are two main ways hepatitis can be passed on from one person to other. These include:
- Contact with infected blood or other fluids of the body
- Contact with infected feces
Hepatitis A and E virus are excreted through the feces of an infected individual. A person can become infected with hepatitis A or E if he/she ingests the contaminated water or food.
Hepatitis types B, C, and D are contracted mainly through contact with infected blood. Though less common, sexual transmission is also an important route of exposure, particularly for hepatitis B.
How to Prevent Hepatitis?
- Immunization for Hepatitis A and B
There are vaccines available for protection against hepatitis A and B. The following are a few types of vaccines available:
- Hepatitis A Vaccination: This is administered as a series of two separate shots (1 ml for adults and 0.5 ml for children) six months apart
- Hepatitis B Vaccination: made from inactivated viruses, Hepatitis B Vaccines are administered in a series of three or four shots over six months
- Combination Hepatitis A and B vaccination: This vaccine is administered in a series of three parts. When completed, these vaccines provide immunity against Hepatitis A and B Virus.
While, vaccines to prevent hepatitis C, D, or E are not available, many hepatitis C patients are now getting benefitted from the new effective antiviral medications. Talk to your doctor to know more about these antiviral medicines
In addition, there is no vaccine yet for hepatitis D. However, as hepatitis D virus needs hepatitis B to survive, getting vaccinated with hepatitis B injection keeps hepatitis D infection at bay. But, if an individual is already infected with hepatitis B, getting vaccinated for hepatitis B cannot protect him/her against hepatitis D.
- Protection against Hepatitis While Traveling
Clean water cannot always be accessed while traveling, and contaminated water may spread hepatitis A and E. Ensure to stock enough bottled mineral water from trusted brands that are factory sealed for drinking when you are traveling.
Keep in mind that when traveling, water contamination may always not be obvious to our naked eyes. It is better to avoid ice cubes, tap water and raw vegetables and fruits that could have been washed in contaminated water.
Washing or brushing teeth with contaminated water may also put an individual at risk. Use factory-sealed bottled water to brush teeth and avoid consuming any water while swimming or taking a shower.
Furthermore, do not forget to wash hands regularly, as frequent hand washing may help protect you against hepatitis A and E. And If you feel that tap water available for washing may be contaminated, use hand sanitizer.
- Safe Sex Practices Can Reduce Hepatitis Risk
Although the primary route of transmission of some types of hepatitis like hepatitis C is through contact with blood, unprotected sexual contact can also put individuals at risk. Safer sexual practices and use of a condom can minimize the risk. Individuals with the highest risk include:
- Men having sex with men
- Having sex with an infected person
- Having sex with multiple partners
- Avoid Sharing of Personal Items
Do not share, especially those drug paraphernalia used by injection drug users, as the syringe or a needle may have traces of blood for a significant period of time. Even a tiny trace of infected blood is enough to put a person at risk for hepatitis. The same goes for needles used for tattooing, acupuncture, or body piercings. Ensure they are sterile before using them
Refrain from sharing or using personal grooming items belonging to another. Family members of individuals who have hepatitis are at a greater risk for contracting it, especially when they share or use personal care items (razors, toothbrushes, etc.) that may have undetectable, small, quantities of blood on them.
- Alcohol, Drugs, and Your Hepatitis Risk
Not all hepatitis infections are caused by the virus. Certain substances toxic to our liver may cause inflammation and liver damage. A person with viral hepatitis should avoid exposing the liver to toxins. It can make liver inflammation even worse.
Toxins include over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol), certain prescription drugs and herbal supplements, and excessive alcohol which can be hard on our liver and lead to hepatitis.
As a risk for liver problems increases with time and with the quantity of alcohol consumed, it is best to consume alcohol in moderation. If you have the tendency to drink heavily or if you have pre-existing liver issues, talk to your doctor about the safety of your liver.
Some Fast Facts to Prevent Hepatitis
Vaccination can protect you from hepatitis A or B infection, but not hepatitis C. Protect yourself against Hepatitis while traveling(avoid ice cubes, tap water, including raw vegetables and fruits). Prevent hepatitis A infection by making sure that your food and water is not contaminated. Avoid hepatitis C infection by staying clear of any exposure to blood from any individual infected with the virus.